Day 0

A return to blog will document my 3 week journey across Ethiopia. Its a work trip, but I like the word ‘journey’ better. My team will be evaluating 21 health facilities across 3 regions of Ethiopia to evaluate how Glimmer’s projects have impacted local communities. What an perfect opportunity for some bloggity blog- a look at Ethiopia that includes snippets of my volunteer life, work, rural travel and silly team antics. Our last field trip culminated with a trip to Freedom Nightclub where my Ethiopian counterparts and I danced the twist and I hailed it as America’s true cultural dance. Will we twist again, like we did last summer? We’ll see!


I cheated. This is a day 3 photo of the incinerator at one of our health facilities. 

Day 1: Raw meat and wine at 7am

Nothing kicks off an epic road trip like eating a pound of raw meat at 7am. Kitfo (minced raw meat), cheese and spinach were heaped onto my plate and I was barely 10 minutes out of my PJs. We washed it down with a couple glasses of tej (homemade honey wine) each and quite jauntily went on our merry way.

Two hours later, we’re bouncing around in the back of our jeep like popcorn as we descend into the Great Rift Valley gorge. At this point, I stared questioning the wisdom of our honey wine- raw meat breakfast. I managed to suppress the gurgling in my stomach though, and took in the amazing scenery- there is a picture below but its hard to do justice to the vastness of the gorge and its rocky beauty.


Rift Valley gorge from the top and the bottom.


The rest of the 10 hour trip north passes without incident and we arrived at dusk in Bah Hidar, in the Amhara region. The $6/night hotel I’m in might have been a bad choice. Sketchy hotels used to be the standard fair for me as a PCV, but I’m an Addis lij now (a child of Addis Ababa). Just being in here makes me feel itchy. The first three rooms I entered either had very surprised guests already in them or were full of trash and the bar across the street is looping MJ’s Beat It over and over and over. Argh!

Whelp. An exciting first day out. Tomorrow work begins, tomorrow we travel to Gondar, pick up one of our implementing partners and start looking at rural health facilities. Yeah!


Its harvest season so you see a lot of people in the fields, including this woman who is harvesting tef, the grain used to make injera.

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The Rickshaw Run!

Help provide rural Indian communities access to clean water AND help Laura travel across the Indian sub-continent in a 3-wheeled golf cart!

Wait. Wait. Wait. Rural communities in India? A three-wheeled what?! How do these things even connect? Well, I’ll break it down for you. The core of the matter is this… on New Years Day, 2013 I will embark on the wildest, craziest adventure on Earth and will simultaneously be supporting a fantastic grass roots water charity in India. There are 3 parts to this equation: The Charity (Frank Water), The Adventure (aka the Rickshaw Run), and YOU!

The Charity

Frank Water is not your run-of-the-mill non-profit. Frank Water has an approach that is very similar to Peace Corp’s approach- its community oriented. Frank Water finds solutions to India’s vast and varying water sanitation issues by working with small communities and their existing resources. The water projects that Frank Water implements are owned by the communities in which they are implemented, empowering these communities to take control of their own lives and health. Not only does Frank Water have the right idea, but they get results, they save lives. Diarrhea and water borne diseases are the number one cause of death for children under the age of 5 in India (and in Ethiopia as well)*. Frank Water has increased access to clean drinking water for hundreds of children, reducing their exposure to water-borne illness.


A requisite part of The Adventure (detailed below) is that each member of my adventure team raise $500 for Frank Water. If you’ve ever done Race for the Cure or a Bike for Charity event- its the same concept, only we’ll be traveling thousands of miles across India in a glorified lawnmower, for charity. You are my friends and family, but odds are you’re like me- of modest income. Because of this, I put my faith in the vastness of my pool of loving friends and family, instead of the depths of the pockets of a few. Of course we wouldn’t be repulsed by larger donations but still…

My Goal: 30 Donations of $10- $20 by November 30th

Go here to donate:
Go here to learn more about Frank Water:

Perks: There are perks! If you donate to our cause, we will recognize you in 1 of 2 ways. 1) We will mention you on our website or 2) We will paint your name or likness on the outside of our Adventure Vehicle for all of India to see.

Note: 100% of donations go to Frank Water, all costs of Adventuring across India are entirely self-funded.

The Adventure

Imagine the wildest, craziest adventure possible, then double it. You’ve now come no-where close to the insanity known as The Rickshaw Run. <> The Rickshaw Run is a 2 week, self-led journey all the way down the west coast of India, over 2,000 miles. Our Adventure Vehicle is the rickshaw, pictured below. A magnificent 3-wheeled beast. My 2 stout of heart companions, Dustin and Dave, and I make up the glorious team called Team Tinnish Coi. Additionally, we will work closely with a second team from Peace Corps Ethiopia which will help to minimize safety concerns. We will spend 2 weeks weaving down the back roads of India in our little tuk-tuk vehicle, enjoying the less touristy side of the country and any adventures we come across along the way. Indian weddings, dance parties with children in the street, driving our rickshaw onto wooden ferries to cross rivers are all possibilities for adventure, along with countless, unforeseeable others.

I hope you’re able to support me in this adventure by supporting Frank Water and all the great work they do.

Donate here:

Fundraising starts now! From here on, I’ll be giving regular updates on my blog as to the progress of our fundraising efforts and how we are preparing for this journey. Please share my blog with anyone who would be interested in the cause or who shares our spirit for adventure.

Thank you guys, for all your support.

Onward to Adventure!

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Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)

Camp GLOW Nekemte 2012

Sometimes in midst of floundering projects and the struggles of everyday rural Ethiopian life, it is easy to loose hope for the country’s future. After one week of leading a girl’s leadership camp, I found new hope, both for the girl’s future and their country’s. Camp GLOW is an international summer camp program, done in almost every Peace Corps country and this year I worked with 10 other volunteers to establish one in Nekemte, in western Ethiopia. The camp addressed its main theme, Leadership, through an interdisciplinary approach and subtopics for the week included environmental responsibility, women’s health, goal setting, HIV and STDs, self esteem and resisting peer pressure. 34 9th grade Ethiopian girls participated in the program. Despite the novelty of camp for counselors and campers alike and the unique challenges that holding it in Ethiopia presented, the story ended better than I could possibly have hoped.

Warning: The below ‘memorable moments’ aren’t all glamorous. They paint a true picture of both sides of camp- the side the campers saw and the logistical side the counselors battled with constantly.

Memorable Moments                            

The First Lunch

We had made it to Nekemte- me, my PCV friend Paul, and 13 terrified 9th grade girls. Taking girls away from their families at this age is unheard of in Ethiopian culture and it was easy enough to tell that the girls were uncomfortable. Lunch was a stony, awkward endeavor. The girls sat, silent, in their tall flat backed chairs and barely touched their food. “Oh no”,went my internal dialogue, “This is the beginning of a disaster”.

Team Monkeys on University Scavenger Hunt




Confirmation of the Disaster

Despite the incredible efforts of our hard working Peace Corps Volunteers, the lodging was not ready for the campers and nor was any of the programming we had developed for the first day. By the end of lunch, almost all the campers had arrived and were looking at us for what to do. We led them on a somewhat rag- tag campus tour to fill some time and then we arrived at our class rooms to play some ‘get to know you’ games. The rooms hadn’t been cleaned and desks and clutter and dirt were everywhere. I remember the first laughs I heard at camp started during these get to know you games, but my head was too full of all our logistical issues to pay much attention. I was also starting to feel physically sick.

After games we led girls down to the dining hall. Lines for food meandered over 2 blocks outside of the cafeteria doors. We lined the kids up with the students and it immediately started to rain. No one had umbrellas. I made my way into the cavernous cafeteria in search of a man who’s face I didn’t know, but luckily he found me. Our private dining area was not ready but he did have a smaller serving room for us. I went to alert the counselors and it was chaos- rain on the tin roof so loud you couldn’t hear anything, the students and campers looked just alike and were blending together, and we’d accumulated a crowd of at least 50 curious onlookers. I prayed we had all the girls and led the march to the other dining hall. Head count in the much quieter hall said we all made it. Thank god.

The food was slop. Utter slop. The girls were still to petrified of us foreigners to complain, so they each took a tray of slop and sat down and looked at it. After all the kids were accounted for I set out to find the cafeteria manager, to make sure such a nightmare didn’t happen again. He was sweet and apologetic and showed me where our private tables and chairs would be, starting at breakfast the following morning. It was a relief figure it out, but over the 10 minute conversation I rapidly felt more and more sick. I had to wrap up the conversation early, get his number and run outside to throw up. Nauseous and weak I went back to the dining hall, to help the other counselors. As Camp Director, I felt like I had failed before camp had even begun. I laid in my bed, head reeling, trying to fight back the urge to vomit as the other counselors dealt with the girls.


Repping a Still Family tradition for game night. Spoons- a game that knows no cultural boundaries.

The Team and The Rally

So far, the stories don’t exactly match my gushing intro of love and success for camp. Hit que for the most amazing camp counselor team on the planet- Joanna, Kim, Princess, Rho, Katie, Scott, John, Celeste, Mahi, Mahlet, Meskerem, Dustin, Paul and myself. That first night, exhausted as we all were, we rallied for our first nightly meeting. I was slumped in a chair shivering under a billion sweaters while everyone problem solved and reviewed programming for the following day. Seeing everyone so motivated, so ready to do whatever work needed to be done, I knew the next day would be better. And it was. Mind over matter, a miracle, whatever it was- I woke up the next morning feeling strong with a desire to be a Camp Director worthy of the title.


Scavenger Hunt

One of my favorite activities was the fist day University Scavenger Hunt. My Team, the Monkeys, spent an hour running around Wollega University Campus in search of various offices and facilities. Day 1, and the girls were already developing a sense of team identity and were working together.



During camp, girls could earn ‘spirit points’ for their team, Hogwarts style. Spirit points were given out in the form of bracelets, for girls who were helpful or who participated in a special way. Dustin led a projection program where interested girls could practice their public speaking skills by standing in an open space on the ground floor and introducing themselves to the entire group who were standing on a second floor balcony. Some girls are naturally outgoing and they were the first to run down the stairs and introduce themselves. They received spirit points. This produced a snowball effect where even the most shy girls got down there and introduced themselves in as loud and confident a voice as they could muster. I brought my landlord’s daughter, Sida, to camp and she is one of the shiest girls I’ve ever met. When she went down there and introduced herself, well, the crowd went wild. Ever girl and counselor on the balcony cheered, a magnitude of encouragement I imagine she’s never experienced before in her life.


Salem practicing her vocal projection for an eager crowd

The Monkey Cheer

Joanna, John and I were the heads of the Monkey Team. Not to brag, but we were totally the most spirited team. They even developed their own cheer… “monkeys monkeys MONKEYS CLIMB TREES!”. I was one proud mother monkey.


Team work exercise- campers worked together to build a mobile bridge that could carry a marble between 2 rooms. The kids were so frusterated when time after time the marble hit the floor. That just made sucess all the more sweet.

Peer Pressure Role Plays

Funniest skits ever. And totally practical in their approach of how to handle peer pressure. The girls were surprisingly persuasive with imposing their peer pressure tactics and surprisingly forceful with their rejections of such tactics. “But beer has lots of vitamins!”

Unapologetic Bragging about our Counselors and Programming

Camp was awesome b/c of the counselors.

  •   Scott’s Field Day games and tree planting (which more than a couple kids said was their favorite part of camp).
  • Paul’s Ethiopian dance moves and tireless work to attend to every camper’s medical needs.
  • Meskerem’s all around help translating and problem solving and just being loving and wonderful.
  • Joanna’s big hit- journal writing where camper reflected on the lessons of the day and wrote special notes to each other.
  • Kim’s RUMPs demonstration (reusable menstral pads) and home-run after home-run of super fun craft activities.
  • Rho’s talk on STDs (which was novel information to many of the girls) and her non-stop behind the scenes magic.
  • Dustin and John’s camp-saving logistical feat of retrieving water from over 10 miles away when the running water shut off half-way through camp.
  • Princess’s cool, patient handling of camp funds and the strong example she set for the kids- for a lot of reasons she was a favorite of the girls.
  • Celeste, Scott and John’s incredible feat of pulling together an amazing ‘environment day’ that went smoothly despite the very limited prep time they had.
  • Katie was an all around fantastic counselor who’s sure fire knowledge and expert teaching on HIV and putting condoms on bananas was a novel experience for most campers.
  • The Ethiopian junior counselors Howi, Boruntu and Selam provided bursts of energy that kept the kids motivated and interested as well as provided an essential service- translating.
  • Mahi and Mahlet were perfect examples of strong Ethiopia women for the girls and they did more hard work than I could ever list here.
  • Of course I was a total baller Camp Director, but I ain’t about to toot my own horn (too much).

Can’t say enough how proud I am of our team for overcoming so many obstacles and having such limited resources yet still providing the kids with a camp of the highest quality.

Craft Time with Kim!

The Bonfire

The last day. I had lost 2 sets of keys and we had our closing bonfire ceremony in 30 minutes. My friend Paul and I are always sharing this little piece of wisdom with each other, “sometimes we get buy in Ethiopia on dumb luck alone”. At the last minute I found the keys and went with Kim and Dustin over to the private resort where the bonfire was to be held. It had been rainy all day, but due to sheer dumb luck, the skies were clear for our bonfire. After all the logistical chaos we’ve experienced, I was expecting nothing and was SO surprised to see a fire pit and a circle of chairs arranged for us in a lovely tree fort. We all gathered around the camp fire that last night, roasting s’mores, surrounded by friends new and old. The counselors sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and I was overwhelmed with pride as I gave each camper a certificate of completion. In the fire light, each girl hugged herself and said “I am a strong woman. I can do anything”. In their eyes there was hope and joy and the fiery dreams of the future leaders of Ethiopia.


Counselors Singing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ for the campers. And yeah, we totally rocked it.

So that was camp in a nutshell, messy and beautiful and 100% worth it. Who can say how this one week will impact these girls’ futures, but I can safely say that none of them or us will forget it anytime soon. The lessons learned, the ending team chants and the tearful goodbyes were all a part of newfound but strong feeling of sisterhood between us all. A united front of the future leaders of Ethiopia. Girls Leading Our World!



Howi planting a tree as part of our environment day. We learned all about how to start a garden, transplant seedlings and prevent soil eroision with Scott.


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I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

In my opinion, any attempt to have a traditional American Christmas inEthiopiais guaranteed to be disappointing. You might see the occasional seizure inducing Christmas lights or lopsided plastic Christmas tree in the entrance to a nice hotel in a larger town, but the magic isn’t there. No candle lit Christmas caroling, no egg nog, no house after house of fluorescent icicles gently hanging from rooftops. No tree decorating, no stockings, no snikerdoodle cookies, no snow, not even fakeTexassnow. No family. Nope, the only way to celebrate inEthiopiais to have as un-traditional a Christmas as possible, and that’s what we did.

Slapped on the sun screen, hoped on a rickety minivan and headed south with some friends to Awassa- a lakeside paradise. The town attracts a large number of ferenjis (westerners) and its full of all those ferenji delights- delicious pizza, a beer garden, fresh juice, other ferenjis. If you follow the palm tree lined main road all the way to its end, you’ll reachLakeAwassa, one of the top 5 largest lakes inEthiopia.


Christmas morning dawned and anticipation prodded JD, Christina, Chelsea, Kelly, Dustin and I from our beds at The Circle of Life Hotel. It wasn’t the promise of presents from Santa that pried us from our slumbers that morning, it was the promise of hippos.

The guy doing push-ups on the asphalt just off the dock and wearing the highest high tops and shortest shorts turned out to be the guy with the boat, the guy who would lead us to these giant water mammals. After the necessary haggling we all tromped onto a leaky boat with peeling rainbow paint and took off for the middle of the lake. It was beautiful. Probably a dozen species of water birds were there, including gigantic pelican like birds that came up well past your hip.


As we neared one edge of the lake our guide cut the motor and we started creeping toward a swath of reeds. “Yes!”, he says, “They are out! Not just noses and ears. Look”. And he tries to point toward the supposed hippos. You mean those rocks? Whatever, those are totally just rocks, I’m not paying 100 birr to see rocks at a distance. But was we got closer we scared the rocks and they started moving around. HIPPOS! We probably got about 15 yards away from the most deadly animal inAfrica. There were about 9 of them, including at 1 baby and a couple adolescents. They were stirring about the reedy shallows doing things only hippos would understand. One started trying to mount the another and our guide jumped up and shouted “its sexy time!” Turns out it wasn’t sexy time, but it was hilarious. Hippos for Christmas, the best gift of all!

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Afternoon Walk and Gardening Detour

I’ve been rather hermit-like all weekend, so this afternoon, Sunday, I decided to take a little walk. Somehow I ended up walking along side a young girl named Chaltu in the direction of the lake and the countryside. I recognized her friendly face but I didn’t remember from where. After talking a bit I realized she is in the high school’s HIV Awareness Club. She was going to the country side to do something I didn’t know the word for, so I just tagged along for the ride. Turned out we were heading to a small patch of lake-side farmland. We then spent the next hour watering the young saplings of hot green peppers and something else whose afan oromo name I didn’t recognize. A small irrigation ditch was gently ushering water from the hillside down to the lake and passing along side the land.

I forgot how much I enjoy gardening. The simple serenity of fetching water and slowly walking down the rows, rocking my watering can back and forth. It was a neighborly affair, a small group of all ages had gathered to assist in the watering process. It was squishy and muddy and peaceful and sublime. The view of the lake from the garden was gorgeous in the fading sunlight. After a weekend of little action and a growing sense of unease about the up coming week, getting whisked into a garden was exactly what I needed. This sort of thing is a special perk of living in Ethiopia that I am very thankful for. The ability to strike up a conversation with practically any person and then it actually lead to a little adventure, if such events occur in the states they are very rare indeed. The quiet feeling of community and collaboration, centered around a simple, natural task. I couldn’t help but feel more peaceful and relaxed than I have in a long time.

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Give a Man a Cow…

Give a man a cow, he eats for a day (or a month b/c cows are HUGE).

Teach a man the art of cattle fattening, his family will not go hungry.

This is the premise behind my first (and very exciting) Peace Corps project. For almost four months I’ve devoted my time and efforts to building social capital- relationships, language skills, community knowledge and more. Now its time to cash in.


When I woke up this morning at 5am to get on a bus to Ambo, I had the grumpy, hazy thought to sack the whole endeavor and get another 3 hours of sleep. Instead, at 5:15 my counter part (Dula) knocked on my door and together we embarked on the bumpy, dusty 4 hour drive to Ambo. Our mission was simple- to turn dreams of starting a cattle fattening project into reality. When I was first approached by my PLWHA (HIV+) association with the ambitious dream of starting a cattle farming program, I dismissed it as too complicated and too costly. The more I interacted with my PLWHA group however, the more I felt the need to do something to help them out. As a result I came to Ambo to hunt down some cattle experts.


In Ethiopia, appointments aren’t all that necessary. Its common to simply show up at an office and request to have a meeting with the person in charge- be that the dean of a university, the mayor, school principle- anybody. So Dula and I showed up completely unannounced at AmboUniversityand found a couple students who lead us to the Animal Sciences Department. There we got really lucky. The dean of the department is one Dr. Chala, who happens to know a great deal about the cattle business and was more than happy to answer all the questions we had about cattle fattening methodology.


After the meeting, Dula and I wandered in search of the University’s dairy cow research facility. Within a hundred yards or so, we just followed our noses. Seeing this concrete example of exactly what I hope our cattle area will look like made me giddy with excitement. We talked to the caretaker and got a lot of really good information about proper cattle care and cattle feed. We also got some ideas for barn construction as well as feeding and watering areas. Despite the tight budget, there is no skimping on proper construction. This is for sanitation purposes and to maintain the health of the cows.


I’ve lived inTexasmy whole life but never for a second did I think one day I’d be rustlin’ cattle. Not at all what I thought my P.C. experience would be, but life is always taking us in unexpected directions.


There is much still to be done. I haven’t even written a proposal for the project yet and there are a million obstacles between now and a successful cattle fattening program that could potentially jeopardize the project. But I’m energized and I’ve got a lot of people willing to put in the effort to get this project off the ground so wish us luck!



For People Who Don’t Know Exactly What I Mean By “Cattle Fattening”

In modern cattle fattening inEthiopia, the first step is to buy traditionally grass feed cows. You then start them on a ‘get fat fast and non-exercise’ routine, the Ben and Jerry’s Diet for cows. The cows will get fed a mixture of locally available foods (sugar cane byproducts, molasses, grass) and a special feed ‘concentrate’ that will be brought in from other parts of Ethiopia. Traditional pastoral systems involve the cows walking miles every day to graze. Cows in this program will stay within a much smaller, enclosed area in order to minimize energy expenditure and maximize cow growth.


After 3 or 4 months of intensive feeding and non-exercise, you turn around and sell the fat Bessies for a profit. When responsibly done, the profit margin can be substantial. Unlike the loathsome massive cattle farms you see in the U.S., ours will be small scale, will give the cows decent room and sanitary living space and will be hormone free!


The whole endeavor is going to have a large start up cost, something my small Peace Corps grant money combined with community contribution may or may not be able to fully fund. We’ll find a way though, and I think having a tight budget will really put the pressure on the community to show their investment in the project.


Update of Cattle Fattening Venture


The next day we went back to discuss more with Dr. Chala and he actually offered us a partnership withAmboUniversity. They will help fund our project if we adjust the project to allow them to research different feed methods. This is fantastic! By further involving the university, we will have on hand expert advice every step of the way and our project will be more likely to succeed.


The catch- today several unnamed sources sighted some problems within my PLWHA (HIV+) association which may hinder the project’s success. The problems have to do with the politics around how funds from the org.’s projects are distributed to its members. This management problem could make things very complicated. Despite this, I’ve decided to attempt the project anyway by creating a new sub-committee within the organization who will work on and benefit from the project, separate from the current leadership committee. If this structure is opposed by the leadership of the organization then I will not do the project with them at all but instead will work with the PLWHA association in Mazoria, a town 13km away. The Mazoria PLWHA Association are great- they are small, self motivated and extremely eager to work. They are a prime candidate for such a project but their distance from Fincha puts them slightly outside of my job description. But I hope to work with them anyway, after going through the moves with Fincha’s PLWHA.

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The Crazy Man in Town December 4, 2011

Yesterday I was told the story of the crazy man in town. I’d seen him around town before- no shoes, grass stuffed up one nostril but I usually gave him a wide berth and we left each other alone. Yesterday however he came up to me and, in a very polite salvo, started asking me questions- what was my name? where am I from? Do I have brothers and sisters? – the usual questions. I politely declined to give my phone number and it was about that time when some friends from work noticed I was conversing with him. They shoed him away and sternly told me I was not to talk to that man. ‘Why?’, I asked, sure he is a little abnormal but he seemed harmless enough and even a little lonely. Then came his story, or at least the local legend of his existence. This man used to be a rich merchant inAddis Ababa, the capital city. But he was greedy and he started worshiping the devil in exchange for riches and prosperity. He indeed did become very rich. After a time however, the devil drove him mad and possessed him with evil spirits. He returned to live with his family in my town. Now, according to the locals, he goes around town and tries to get as much personal information about people as possible. Names, phone numbers, life histories, house location and the like. Then, because he’s possessed by these evil spirits, he uses this information to cast harmful spells on these people and their families. “But magic doesn’t exist”, I said, trying to appeal to my friend’s heavy Protestant background. “Oh yes, magic exists, it is the work of the devil and he does it, tell him nothing about yourself, nothing.”


It was the first real look I had into the way very ancient beliefs melded with the newer and very fervent protestant religion, unfortunately to this man’s detriment. Shunned and ignored, this poor guy with mental problems is left all alone in the community. He’s annoying but I’m convinced he’s harmless and I’m sure he’s less likely to bring sickness to you or your cows than I am.

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